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by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburghers love their Penguins.

And, they’ve been showing up in droves to watch them.

Just one year after leading the NHL in increased attendance, Penguins fans are at it again as the team is on pace to draw more fans to Mellon Arena than in 2005-06. That’s pretty significant, considering the Penguins averaged 15,804 fans per game (94 percent capacity) last season.

Through 245 home games, the Penguins are averaging 16,038 fans per game (95 percent capacity) for a total of 384,902 fans.

Also, the Penguins played before a sellout crowd on Saturday for the 15th time in 24 home games so far in 2006-07. It marked the team’s eighth-straight sellout and the 12th in the past 14 home games.

Last season, only 12 sellout crowds descended on Mellon Arena. After tonight’s game, the Penguins play at Mellon Arena 18 more times in the regular season.

“The Penguins are fortunate to have the greatest fans in hockey,” said Dave Soltesz, the team’s vice president of sales & marketing. “The support of the fans has manifested itself in our string of recent sold-out games. At every one of our games, it’s apparent that the fans are excited about ‘The Evolution’ as our team evolves and gives its all night after night. So do our fans – the building is electric and rivals the atmosphere of the playoff games of past years.”

Indeed. The players are certainly appreciative of the support they receive every time they step on Mellon Arena ice.

“Since the beginning of the season, we’ve always had good crowds and they cheer us on,” goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said. “It’s always much more fun when you have a big crowd behind you.”

Mark Recchi has seen many fans at Mellon Arena throughout his long and distinguished NHL career. He knows the Penguins faithful is as supportive now as when the team won a pair of Stanley Cups in the early 1990s.

“The fans have been terrific. The atmosphere has been awesome since Day 1,” he said. “The fans have been wonderful here and very supportive through thick and thin. We have some great young players who are very exciting to watch and they’ve really been supportive.”

Jarkko Ruutu is enjoying his first season wearing a Penguins uniform. He came to Pittsburgh from Vancouver as a free agent and he’s been impressed with the local fans’ knowledge of and passion for the game.

“The fans are the greatest thing about this game. They support the whole team and it feels good to have that, especially when they support you personally,” he said. “The biggest thing is, when the team is playing well, the crowd is in the game, too. It’s not only the goals and the nice assists, but it’s also the body checks and stuff that the crowd seems to enjoy.”

Likewise, defenseman Ryan Whitney has been overwhelmed by the fan support at Mellon Arena.

“These fans are unbelievable. Everyone here knows it,” he said. “This place can get so loud when we get some momentum and get going.”

Sidney Crosby is at the center of the Penguins’ resurgence. The 19-year-old continues to dazzle Penguins fans every game. Yet, it’s not just Crosby who gets Penguins fans going. Fleury’s acrobatic saves, sensational goals from rookies Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, among others, as well milestone achievements from Recchi and the other Penguins’ veterans keep fans on the edge of their seats.

And, the support is going to get better. Tickets for the nine weekend games and five promotional giveaway nights – including Marc-Andre Fleury wall banner (Feb. 1 vs. Montreal) and Trib Total Media Colby Armstrong bobblehead doll (March 8 vs. New Jersey) – are selling quickly.

“The fans here in Pittsburgh are great. They have been ever since I came here and they stuck with us,” he said. “As players, we realize that and really appreciate them. It’s a very comfortable environment and having your home fans behind you is great.”


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